The SU Review: Skoda Octavia TSI

Let’s get one thing clear – I’m no fan of the Skoda Octavia TSI. I will say some complimentary things in the next 1,300-or-so words, but without even a hint of exaggeration, I can tell you that I wouldn’t keep one of these if it was given to me for free.

No chance, whatsoever.

Our Octavia was hire car, so any fans of the car who might find this review offensive have an ‘out’ there. As a hire car, it was a much more attractive proposition than the Mitsubishi Lancer and there was no way I was getting into a smaller car, which would have been the hideous Hyundai i30 or Getz.

I assume this Octavia was a base model (I gave up on checking options at the Skoda Australia website after about 2 minutes). For a base car, it certainly did come quite well equipped – which was definitely one of the good points.

Actually, the good points will dominate this review, even though I don’t like the car. So lets get to them first.

The Octavia feels like it’s built with a whole bunch of metal. It’s a very solid lump. One of the ways they keep the price down is to have an old fashioned metal rod to prop up the hood when you want to look at the engine. Remove that old fashioned hood support and you can feel the solidity of the construction simply in the weight of the hood. Ladies beware, the weight comes as a shock, even to big burly Australian men.

As is the reputation of vehicles within the Volkswagen group, the materials used on the Octavia are impressive. VW have done a good smoke and mirrors trick here, with pleasant unexpected details and touchpoints that feel like a good car should. Check the name on the headlamp, for instance….

It’s indicative of the attention to detail present on the Octavia and there’s no doubt that details like this make a buyer feel good.

The dashboard isn’t any more special than that of a Toyota, but again the touchpoints in the interior are well done. The steering wheel isn’t leather, but feels much better than most plastic composites. The dashboard is trimmed with a pattered panel that looks great, even if it feels just adequate (and the inconsistent meeting points from the center console to the gearshift were noted).

The dashboard on our car featured a nice color screen, which is intergrated with the climate control system as well as the audio system. This is, again, one example of Skoda packing in a lot of bang for the buck. The climate control is true climate control, with dual zone dial-your-temp control available.

The same trim on the dash is used on the doors, too. Again, the touchpoints like window switches and door pulls feel good and solid. The rest of the door panel, not so much.

The seats on this particular car were cloth, but they looked OK and felt OK, too. Perhaps a bit scratchy on the back, but nothing I’d worry about. Rear seat legroom seems comparative for the class, but wasn’t commodious.

Moving just a little further back…..

Whilst the car looks like a sedan, it’s actually a hatchback, though as it retains a sedan silhouette, it goes without the spaciousness of a true hatchback. It merely benefits from a very big mouth.

Whilst we’re here, let me say a little more about the hatch.

It was a decent size, albeit smaller than what I think a hatch should be. More importantly, however, it was perfectly serviced by the single-piece hatch door. Skoda also make a “twin-door” hatch on their larger models, which has a two-stage opening that works like a regular sedan trunk when opened half way, as well as offering a full hatchback opening.

My brother-in-law was impressed by the full size spare tyre under the floor.

Would this car benefit from the twin-door? I don’t see how. Whilst intellectually clever, I personally don’t see the need for the added cost, construction or complication of a twin-door. To me, it just seems unnecessary.

So there are a lot of good points working in favour of the Skoda. It’s solidly built, comes well equipped and much of the equipment even feels good to the touch. For just less than $30,000 this seems like some good buying.

Which leads us to the bad bits, I guess.

Have you noticed what I haven’t spoken about yet? Yes, the driving itself.

This car had the 1.4 litre turbocharged engine, making 90kW or 120hp. That engine was matched to a 7-speed DSG gearbox (the modern 7-speed being another indicator of Skoda’s bang-for-the-buck). This combination gives you both good and bad results. Unfortunately, the bad far outweighed the good as far as I was concerned.

The good part is very good fuel economy for a car that will carry as much as the Octavia can carry.

The bad part is the rest. Every other bit of driving.

This was the first time I’d spent any substantial time behind the wheel of a car equipped with a DSG gearbox. I’m told that all DSG gearboxes are pretty much the same. They don’t keep the good ones for the Golfs/Audis/Whatevers and ship the ones that fail quality control off to Skoda, for example. I was also led to believe that DSG gearboxes were super-smooth and super quick with the gear changes.

Well, here’s what I found with ‘our’ Octavia.

The drive was incredibly jerky until you got up to speed. With 7 cogs to get through, the first few must be incredibly short. We were in third gear by the time we got to a mere 30km/h and each of the two changes we went through to get there was preceded by a significant lurching on the car’s part as it quickly got to the top of the gear’s range.

It made for very uncomfortable driving when travelling at a normal pace. The only way to escape the jerkiness was to take off as if you were in a drag race. Push the car and the gear changes actually became less noticeable.

Oh, and in case you think that maybe we just got a bad one…… the girl at the Europcar desk warned us about “the Skodas” as she gave us the keys. She said the takeoff would take a little getting used to – and she wasn’t wrong.

And speaking, as we were, of gearchanges – aren’t DSG gearboxes supposed to be imperceptibly quick-changing in manual mode?

I pushed the stick over to manual mode and I will swear on my father’s grave that to my own mind, there was nothing to indicate that the shift on this Octavia’s DSG was any quicker than any other ‘manu-matic’ I’ve driven. Absolutely nothing at all. Just like the manual-mode Saabs I’ve driven, it was a case of moving the shifter a second or so before you actually wanted it to shift.

The 1.4T engine is kind-of impressive. It’s impressive that such a small engine can move such a big lump of a car. I don’t know how it’d go fully loaded but I was impressed to find out that it was so small. On the other hand, it really didn’t do anything notable apart from being reasonably frugal.

The future of motoring seems to be smaller displacement in bigger cars and that’s a good thing, but I hope they can be more exciting and engaging than this.

The car seemed to handle corners predictably but to be honest, I took the chance to enjoy the winding roads for the scenery rather than for the driving. The car didn’t inspire one to daring driving in any way whatsoever. And to be fair to the people at Skoda, I don’t think they ever intended it to.

These cars are currently selling for between $29,000 and $52,000 here in Australia (approx). The lower end of that range is for new-in-stock 2010 and 2011 models and at that money, it’s a heck of a lot more attractive than paying for a top-spec Hyundai i30. For just a tad more than the $29K base price, though, you can get a new-in-stock 2010 Ford Focus RS5 Turbo. I know what I’d rather have at that money.

At the top end, that $52K price is getting into lower-strata Saab 9-3 territory and whilst I’m sure the $50K Skoda is very well equipped (RS wagon, 2.0T engine, leather, etc) I’m not convinced, based on my experience with this model, that it’d have the scope for improvement to make an impression on me, personally.

As mentioned, the Octavia I drove this weekend is something that I wouldn’t keep if it was given to me as a gift. So annoying is the gearshift and engine combination, I’d be forced to sell it for a song. The rest of the car, whilst objectively admirable, was never close to inspiring.

It’s a lot for the money, but it’s still not much (which probably explains why we’re paying our house off first and not buying something I wouldn’t be happy with).

TheSandyBear
Guest
TheSandyBear
5 years 7 months ago

Hmmm, interesting review and opinions. My parents are about to replace their 2000 VW passat kombi with something smaller. I am unsuccessfully arguing for a 9-3 SC with the new 220 hp di engine, they want to go for a 2011 Golf. I suggested the very mentioned DSG 7 speed, without having driven it. I was convinced it would be a state of the art, smooth and quick auto transmission. There seem to be non other auto option for VW, so if this gearbox is disappointing, maybe my parents will have to look for something else…

baas900i
Guest
baas900i
5 years 7 months ago

how does it compare with the interior of the current 9-3 range?

Adam Bower
Guest
Adam Bower
5 years 7 months ago

Interesting that the main fault of the car is the DSG box… given all the good press about them. Slightly more worrying is that many people have been asking for DSG type boxes in SAAB’s if they are so bad!

AGTMADCAT
Guest
AGTMADCAT
5 years 7 months ago
I’m a ZipCar member, and I’ve recently had the change to take out an Audi A3 with a DSG while my SAAB was at the mechanic. It was brilliant fun, with smooth (and VERY fast) gear changes, however aggressive or docile the start. I suspect that this DSG’s problem may have been the incredibly puny engine, or something like that. The A3 I had that day had an engine of at least half-again the displacement, so it could probably cope through a wider range of RPMs at any speed than this Octavia could. My guess is taht the transmission logic… Read more »
aZuL2001
Guest
aZuL2001
5 years 7 months ago

But you did have a good weekend ? 😉

Kandiru
Guest
Kandiru
5 years 7 months ago

Lets put it this way, VAG bought out Skoda cars and bastardized the brand into a VW rebadge showcase.

We had the Skoda 1000MB in the 1970ies, and i remember me and my bro rolling across the bare metal
floors during dad’s spirited drives on the twisties on a few occasions:)

SteveW
Guest
SteveW
5 years 7 months ago
Thank goodness I went for the manual diesel! The gearbox sounds nasty and it seems like it badly coloured your experience of the car. I don’t think the 7 speed helps, a case of going one gear too far I guess. I have been a passenger in a Touran with the six speed DSG and the changes seemed seamless to me. Although you didn’t ‘push it’ I can comfirm that it handles absolutely nothing like a 9-3. To be fair you would need to try the vRS to get a more comparible set up of suspension, wheels and tyre profiles.… Read more »
Stephen Goldberger
Guest
Stephen Goldberger
5 years 7 months ago
A gear too far? I’ve monkeyed a bit with a conceptual design for a DSG, and what I found is that with four pairs of gears the design lends itself quite well to 7 forward, one reverse. Fitting the same four pairs into a manually shifted box, however, and you find that there’s no easy way to do that. You would need a first gear lockout, much like the reverse lockout, or alternatively be incredibly adept at hitting the gear you want. So essentially, a 6 speed DSG is just wasted space, while 6 speeds seems to be the upper… Read more »
Peter Gilberrt
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Peter Gilberrt
5 years 7 months ago
This is an interesting perspective because every time I drive something else other than a Saab I find faults. I think it sounds like a design issue (the transmission) rather than quality. This is a Czech car and Škoda has a very rich history going back to the 1890s, with what may be the World’s first FWD Motorcycle. The VW Touareg (based on the Porsche Cayenne is made in the now independent county of Slovakia, at its Bratilava plant Like the Swedes the Bohemians have always been unique engineers. The car for my bucket list is the Tatra, which was… Read more »
RS
Guest
RS
5 years 7 months ago

Skoda can be an ok car (like anything with four wheels and a motor) if you drive less than 20 km/day. BUT you can do 300 or more in a Saab. Every day, for years. There’s the huge difference!
Can we please move on.

Tompa
Guest
Tompa
5 years 7 months ago
Well, I guess you could arrive ok in a Skoda after 20km my friend, I drive a car inferior to the Octavia, the Toyota Aygo bacause of the taxreductions and low consumotion. It´s a cheap car but I can still do 460km in it one way down to my in laws. But compared to my Saab it´s completely and utter dull. The interior is plasticy and cheap, over-disigned and with a personality of a dead hamster. My Saab is the other way around. After 460 km I could do another 460 right away. After driving my Toyota I never look… Read more »
RS
Guest
RS
5 years 7 months ago
Tompa, that’s my point. Many think lesser cars (like the Octavia) are so good for taking you from A to B when infact their only good on these short trips or during rush hour when driving characteristics have no meaning. When we’re talking about taking you from A to B on long journeys (several hours daily) Saab and some other premium brands start to make the difference rediculously obvious. Sure you won’t die even in an old Fiat Panda instantly (unless you get in an accident), but the fact is the driving becomes so much more stressful and exhausting in… Read more »
Chris
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Chris
5 years 7 months ago
My wife drives a Citroen C1 (exactly the same as the Toyota Aygo and the Peugeot 107). It’s an excellent city car with superb fuel economy (6lt/100km in city traffic) and a peppy 1lt/68hp engine. It is not meant for long distances even though it can do it but with less comfort. It can easily travel for hours with speeds in the range 120-140Km/h. The interior is rather poor. No luxury here. Just the necessary. But no way to compare it to a Saab. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Different purpose vehicles. PS: Our C1 reaching top speed on… Read more »
Lars Jorge
Guest
Lars Jorge
5 years 7 months ago
Like most visitors on SaabsUnited I am a Saab enthusiast and as that I am not objective then it concerns Saab. Some of my neighbors have Audi A5, BMW M5 and Mercedes CLK 320 but not for a while it would intend me to change my 9-3 Convertible against someone of them. A guy here at SaabsUnited accused me once to be snobby and in order to actually want to have a Masarati if I could afford it instead of a SAAB, but actual there is no else brand that I would want to have than SAAB. I can see… Read more »
Henrik
Guest
Henrik
5 years 7 months ago

yes he does and it´s a stunner, people not interested in Saab has asked me about Wallanders car as if it was a new model 🙂
By the way is it carbon grey metallic?
Also the 9-5 griffin in that series looks nice, also good to see that they drive a lot of Saab cop cars. It is really good product placing.

SteveW
Guest
SteveW
5 years 7 months ago

A fantastic series, superior compared to the British Branagh version (and that was good). British series had Wallander driving an ovloV so it loses more marks LOL. Worse still I think the books have Wallander driving a Peugeot of all things!

J Fan
Guest
J Fan
5 years 7 months ago

Well, you gave it a chance and at least you drove it – I can’t argue with that. I suppose it appeals to people who want to get from a to b without much fuss.

Baracuda
Guest
Baracuda
5 years 7 months ago
Nice to hear from you Swade, that you also didn’t like the DSG gearbox. Drove a VW T5 BiTDI with the DSG last week and i have to say as an automatic driver, thats the car that i would by with a stickshift. The DSG is so annoying with gearing up stressfully and bucking the whole car. What i noticed in the T5 was that when you take your foot from the brake the RPM revs from 750 to 1100 without doing anything on the throttle pedal. I really liked the automatic boxes in the pre facelifted T5s, but the… Read more »
DavidC
Guest
DavidC
5 years 7 months ago

VAG builds the most brands from the fewest platforms 4 for Audi, Seat, Skoda, VW brands if I remember correctly like GM’s BOP cars used to be. Levels of trim susupension and compression ratio will vary

vagabond
Guest
vagabond
5 years 7 months ago

It would be interesting to compare Swade’s review, side by side, with one from the so called experts, such as Autocar.

c-e nikander
Guest
c-e nikander
5 years 7 months ago
Hi Swade! At home I have an Octavia Combi 1,8TSI. I have had it for one year now. Skoda as a whole is a top selling make in Finland: VW quality at a slightly cheaper price and normally, time tested components from VW and Audi. Cars are excessively expensive over here and people for this reason do not want to experiment too much when buying a new car and they need a decent credit when trading in their old car. After two as new bought 9000s followed by the previous model of Ford Mondeo I ended up buying the present… Read more »
Snatch
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Snatch
5 years 7 months ago

Autocar an experts? C’mon…. Than a A(udi)MS are experts too.

Snatch
Guest
Snatch
5 years 7 months ago

Your parents should have a look at something else with no doubt. Ask about DSG repair prices.

Brett
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Brett
5 years 7 months ago

Nice review. I see a lot of parts in common with my mom’s 2006 Jetta 2.0T DSG. There was something definitely up with your DSG though. Our Jetta has the 6-spd DSG and every ONCE in a while it’ll shift harshly, but I find it to be VERY smooth and fun to drive. In tiptronic mode it feels like it shifts almost before you ask it to. I like it so much in her car that it’s something I wish Saab would offer.

Argosy
Guest
Argosy
5 years 7 months ago

My impressions of the DSG7 gearbox are very, very good.

The car was a 1.4 TSI 160 hp Golf and the gearbox was faultless. Faultless! Really suited the engine, changed gears seamlessly.

It seems it depends on the car and the model. Being a rental wont help….

And about the 9-3 vs Octavia competition… all things considered and price being similar(in my country, a RS Octavia is much cheaper then a 2.0T 9-3), I’d probably take the 9-3 but there’s no denying that Octavia is probably, in most regards, a better car.

Robert Czech
Guest
Robert Czech
5 years 7 months ago
Skoda Octavia is a masterpiece of the present motor industry, and a bestseller. Maybe Your combination of the VW DSG and VW TSI Engine did not suit You fine, but the perfect combination of construction, space, quality of materials, makes it a great piece for mass sales. Nothing for individualists, but a solid and smart middle class. This is a totally different approach than Saab. I adore and drive Saabs with their individuality, but I say that one of the greatest achievements in the motor industry is to satisfy masses and have great sales with the practical car. And this… Read more »
RobertP
Guest
RobertP
5 years 7 months ago

It indeed is middle class, middle of the road, nothing can be said about it. Imagine a street filled with Volkswagens, Opels and Skoda’s. As long as you want to fit in, nothing wrong with it.
I don’t agree with you that one of the greatest achievements in the motor industry is to satisfy masses. It all adds to a grey, non-individual, almost communist world. I want to make my own choices, not choices the neighbors took for me. An beside that: Microsoft is a huge success too if you look to sales numbers.

Henke
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Henke
5 years 7 months ago

Fun that people that normally dont comment comes out to defend there car 🙂

Phoenix
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Phoenix
5 years 7 months ago

Yes that is interresting 🙂 I can confirm his observations with the DSG. Exactly my experience as well so he is not lying to you 😉

Arild
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

My biggest reluctance towards Skoda is the design. The 9-3 compared to the Octavia or the 9-5 compared to the Superb is like comparing beauty to the beast.

Okay, so Skodas don’t look like beasts, but they do look old fashion, lumpy and not very aerodynamic. The Saabs look like they could cut through steel, while Skodas look like they would try to hammer they way through without any luck.

This is of course my very personal and subjective view 🙂

Aussie PAddan
Guest
Aussie PAddan
5 years 7 months ago
Hey, I just bought a DSG Polo diesel for Mrs Paddan, Wheels Magazine here in Oz weren’t very complementary to the manual diesel they tested in the Car Of The Year awards here (which the Polo won) but I must admit the DSG box drives very nicely, no complaints at all. Come on guys ISkoda was a basket case when VW bought them out, go back an ddrive that 70s Skoda now and tell me how good it isn’t. I can’t wipe the smile off my face driving my Sonett, but the handling is heavy and brakes poor, its noisy,… Read more »
Saabseller
Guest
Saabseller
5 years 7 months ago

64,000 people in January seemed to like the Skoda range! Times that by 12, that’s a lot of cars.

ivo 71
Guest
ivo 71
5 years 7 months ago

Swade, if I interpret your report correctly then your major/only problem with the Skoda was the apparently unlucky marriage of that specific 1.4 engine with the DSG 7-speed box. So, maybe if you would have driven a more powerful engine, like for instance the 2.0T (they actually also exist with a 3.6 litre turbo engine, I believe, or perhaps I’m confusing the Octavia with the Superb), with either a standard auto (if they are available for the Octavia) or the 6-speed manual box, you may well have written a different story?

Ivo

Saabseller
Guest
Saabseller
5 years 7 months ago

147 kw petrol in RS, 118 kw in regular Octavia. 90 kw is entry for Swade’s market. The Superb has the 3.6 V6 not the Octavia and it has no turbo. All trans for Octavia are DSG unless manual.

ivo 71
Guest
ivo 71
5 years 7 months ago

Thanks for clarifying the engine and ‘box situation, Saabseller.

Ivo

zippy
Guest
zippy
5 years 7 months ago

Kandiru said

Lets put it this way, VAG bought out Skoda cars and bastardized the brand into a VW rebadge showcase.

Sounds somewhat familiar! 😉

The 9-3SS has an aluminum hood which is why it feels light in relation to a Skoda’s.

I also find this whole Skoda Superb/Saab 9-5 thing a bit of a joke. I mean is someone with a 9-5 type of salary really going to be wanting a Superb?

Tompa
Guest
Tompa
5 years 7 months ago

” I mean is someone with a 9-5 type of salary really going to be wanting a Superb?”

Well Zippy it depends on the buyer being interested in cars or not I guess. I personally know one of Swedens wealthiest men and he drives a First generation Citroën C5. He does not care for cars at all. And if the Octavia would have had the hyraulic suspention like a Citroën he might have bought a Skoda.

Cheers/Tom

Mikaik
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Mikaik
5 years 7 months ago

Then he does care about cars ;). C5 is not exactly for everybody.

ivo 71
Guest
ivo 71
5 years 7 months ago

I once interviewed a similarly situated Dutch captain of industry. He arrived at the RV driving a 6 years old Peugeot 405. I asked him whether he had a garage somewhere filled with Rollses, Lambos and similar. He said ‘No, of course not. Why are you asking?’

I guess there are very wealthy people who prefer letting their fortunes hang out for everyone to see and others… just don’t give a d*mn..

Ivo

Tompa
Guest
Tompa
5 years 7 months ago

Ohh, just to defend myself regarding my take on driving pleasures and having money.. There is Nothing wrong with Citroën. I quite like(d) them.

Cheers/Tom

Pedro
Guest
Pedro
5 years 7 months ago

I have read generally good reviews of VW’s DSG grearboxes… Perhaps Swade was somehow the victim of rental-car abuse by previous drivers?

Tone
Guest
Tone
5 years 7 months ago

That was my first thought too. Perhaps this particular example was ridden hard and put away wet a few too many times before Swade got his mitts on it?

Having said this, I’m now intrigued about how a manual Octavia TSI might drive.

Gimli
Guest
Gimli
5 years 7 months ago

Well Swade,
the verdict from this test was kind of obvious. It’s not a Saab so you hate it.
Last year Scoda sold 762,600 cars. How many did Saab sell?
Yes, I know, we’re all morons for not buying Saab. I understand that
Saab owners consider the weight of the hood an important point.
You probably need to use it a lot. On my german car (cousine to Scoda),
I don’t need to bother about the hood too much since the car it just works
out of the box.

Henrik
Guest
Henrik
5 years 7 months ago

I thought they sold more than that. I saw a Skoda last week at the airport with the hood opened at the side of the road. It was a loaner car or something because it was written “everybody should drive Skoda” on the doors. Kind of funny.

till72
Guest
till72
5 years 7 months ago

🙂

Pierre
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

I was recently in a new VW CC. I was jealous that it had a DSG (6 speed?) and was wishing that Saab had such an offering. That was, until we drove the car. The shifts were sometimes harsh, sometimes discreet. In manual mode, it was very slow to respond. What’s the point of that? I love the concept of a DSG (though I’ll always want a three-pedal option) but the maybe they’re not always what they are cracked up to be. Is this a case of the king having no clothes?

Alex96
Guest
Alex96
5 years 7 months ago
I drive a Golf 1.4 TSI DSG7 for the last few days as a company car. I also had high expectations. Although not as bad as Swades experience, this Golf has the same sort of problems. F1 start, rubbish gear change from first to secondm (way did they make 1st so short??). And any change of the Gas pedal will result in a gear change. So in town I put the stick in sport (to avoid the gear changes) and on the motorway I put it in manual. (I do like the turbo engine !). So… why do I need… Read more »
nzsaab
Guest
nzsaab
5 years 7 months ago
Interestingly there are some complaints about the interior. I have heard nothing but praise about the Octavia’s interior and have been in a few myself. Its even more interesting that this feedback comes from a Saab enthusiast. I could easily find far more complaints from late model Saab owners who are not impressed with the quality of their interiors. All the auto reviewers love Skoda but wouldnt touch Saab. The price is so attractive from the Octavia’s part whilst all you would get from Saab is a base 9-3. As much of a sexy swede the 9-3 is, I dont… Read more »
Peter
Guest
Peter
5 years 7 months ago

“Many people could say the same about the application of active head restraints in the 9-2x”

How is an Active Head Restraint unnecessary? Harnessing simple physics to protect you from whiplash can hardly be compared to putting a trunk onto/into a hatchback.

NZSaab
Guest
NZSaab
5 years 7 months ago

Well, like the boot/hatch idea, no other manufacturer has really shown much interest in the head restraint idea, not even GM. The very popular 9-7x model which lasted 4 years didnt even have them. Clearly Saab didnt think it was worth it there even though it was the most expensive Saab ever produced.

Also I was meaning that Saab saw it fit to put active head restraints in a base model that was a temporary model that lasted all of 2 years but a long term, premium model was denied.

arnold
Guest
arnold
5 years 7 months ago

The S-Tronic seven speed in my Audi Quattro 2 litre petrol is flawless. Gear changes are imperceptible up or down. You must have had a bad one, or the software was different. Changes are instant with the paddles.

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